Morocco announces withdrawal of forces from United Nations buffer zone in Western Sahara

It said the decision was taken by King Mohamed VI at the request of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The standoff in Guerguerat previous year forced United Nations troops to step in after Moroccan gendarmerie crossed past an earthern wall marking Moroccan-controlled areas and the Polisario responded in kind. "Morocco has responded to the call by the UN Secretary-General", said the ministry, "and made this unilateral withdrawal".

Polisario declared Western Sahara independent from Spain in the 1970s and fought a guerilla war against Morocco until the United Nations brokered the 1991 ceasefire.

The stalemate maintained by Morocco has been exacerbated by the fraught situation in Alguergarat area where Morocco seeks to build a road crossing the territories controlled by the Polisario Front.

The global community had feared renewed conflict after Morocco crossed into the disputed territory previous year claiming they were conducting a road clearing.

The Zambian Foreign Minister went to add that his country believes that "Morocco's return to the African Union affords the African family an opportunity to push for this question, which has lasted for a long time, towards a peaceful solution in a spirit of African consensus, dialogue and mutual respect".

Fighting later broke out between Morocco and the Polisario Front but a ceasefire was signed in September 1991.

Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert situated on the north-west coast of Africa. It is known for its significant phosphate reserves and offshore fishing.

But this has yet to take place and Morocco still controls two-thirds of the territory, while thousands of refugees live over the border in Algeria.

In approving the current phase of direct negotiations in 2007, the UN Security Council called for "a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political settlement which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara".

Morocco's deputy foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, said earlier this month the kingdom would "never recognize" Western Sahara's independence.

  • Leroy Wright